Statement by the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) on claims made on Islamophobia Watch

The FMO wishes to provide a retort to the claims made by Islamophobia Watch on Wednesday January 18th 2012. The report is an unfortunate one as it is grossly inaccurate in terms of the claims that have been made about the Federation and its elected PR Officer, Suleman Nagdi. More worryingly, the article will only serve to cause divisions amongst those who are united in the drive against The EDL at a time when unity is most needed.

Islamophobia Watch’s main gripe with the Federation is to do with our decision not to support a counter-demonstration during the EDL’s previous visit to the city. It is the Federation’s decision once again not to support a counter-demonstration and this was outlined in the Leicester Mercury in an article on Wednesday January 18th when Nagdi said:

“Our message will be the same as last time. We are urging people, particularly the young, to refrain from going into the city centre to oppose the English Defence League out of some misguided idea that they are protecting their city. We are best to leave everything to the experts – in this case the police.”

This view is one based on common sense and experience drawn from the last time the EDL came to visit Leicester with the Federation’s response being the subject of acclaim to the extent that the Federation was called upon to advise other towns and cities on the most effective strategies needed to counter the EDL. History has shown us that there have been many skirmishes between the EDL and counter-demonstrators which has led to the arrests. It is our desire to shield the Muslim community from being placed in the middle of any melees which could lead to arrests or criminal records. Our stance is hardened by the fact that many members of the EDL have backgrounds associated with violence thus confrontation with counter-demonstrators will be sought for violence is seen as something to be enjoyed by these individuals. We wish firmly to keep members of the Muslim community away from any potential violence.

Islamophobia Watch’s desire to criticise the Federation’s approach to not support a counter-demonstration highlights a saddening attitude adopted by Islamophobia Watch which smacks of a ‘you are either with us or against us’ position. The Federation appreciates that there are many strategies that have been adopted in the fight against violent extremism. All we ask is that our stance is respected for it has come via a decision made by elected officials in consultation with affiliates who represent over 50,000 people. History has shown us that there are many and varied ways to face difficult challenges. Many examples can be given what can be achieved via dialogue as opposed to confrontation. We make no apologies for our approach to counter the threat of violent extremism by helping the police in community cohesion efforts. One of the reasons why the EDL are visiting Leicester once more is to make political gain over the incident concerning Rhea Page who was attacked by a gang of Somali girls. The Federation spoke out against the attackers of Rhea Page, that Rhea herself expressed her gratitude for the support and condemnation by Leicester’s Muslim community. It is our desire to continue to approach the toughest of issues through the process of building constructive dialogue.

Suleman Nagdi has also come under fire from Islamophobia Watch for conducting a meeting with the leader of the Leicester division of the EDL, with Leicestershire Constabulary serving as an intermediary, because the meeting would ‘play into the hands of the EDL’.

What this assertion fails to do is take into account how Nagdi took a counter-argument to EDL. The meeting with the EDL was the Federation’s attempts to build a dialogue and challenge the views of the EDL. We welcomed the opportunity to voice our concerns to the EDL and to explain why their views of Muslims were wildly unrepresentative and why the public order offences committed by the EDL were to the detriment of the British society that they were supposedly seeking to preserve. Had there not been the chance to open this dialogue then we would not have been able to relay our views to the EDL. In addition, it is important to emphasise that all efforts must be exhausted to tackle the most difficult of situations.

The article published by Islamophobia Watch also takes completely out of context comments made by Nagdi regarding sharia law. According to Islamophobia Watch, Nagdi “has given his support to the anti-sharia parliamentary bill introduced by Geert Wilders’ admirer Baroness Cox.” What the unsubstantiated remark patently ignores is that Suleman had made wider comments. His comments were an answer to a media question which asked about the rights of women which he commented that Islam fully supports. What is even more heartbreaking is the insinuation that Nagdi harbours similar views to Geert Wilders, an insinuation that is deeply offensive to many thousands of Muslims across Britain who are thankful to Nagdi for his over 25 years voluntary service to matters of community cohesion and furthering the cause of the Muslim community. These efforts have seen him decorated with many honours including an MBE, Justice of the Peace (JP) and Deputy Lieutenant (DL) among countless others. Nagdi views on sharia courts are based on a broad consensus within the Muslim community and one that is based on common sense which is that sharia courts must be regulated and must at all times work with respect to British law in conjunction with directives from the Quran which state that Muslims are required to abide by the laws of the land in which they reside.

I do not think that Nagdi needs defending bearing in mind his twenty five years of supporting the Muslim community on human rights, social justice and welfare issues. However, having read the outrageous critique of him, we felt compelled to respond. The evidence we have is that his position as Spokesperson for the community is an elected one. Therefore his continuous re-election is a testimony to the trust and confidence which his voters i.e. the Muslim community, has in him. His profile is not only local but national and indeed international.

That article by Islamophobia Watch has chosen to so vehemently attack Nagdi and the Federation is most worrying. This is not because the Federation is above criticism but rather because at a time when Islamophobia Watch should be concentrating on the drive against violent extremism it is choosing to attack elected members of an organisation that gains its mandate from almost 200 organisations representing over 50,000 people. We appreciate the fact that there are many approaches to tackling violent extremism in all its ugly guises. All we ask is that we are not attacked by the Islamophobia Watch in a manner which can cause divisions amongst the Muslim community when we have worked for over a quarter of a century to unite the Muslim community.